“Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.” — Justice Anthony M. Kennedy
Oh crap! I’m really in trouble now. Not only am I an older woman, I’m an older lesbian woman, and can now add to that list: older, lesbian, single, and now unmarried, woman. How did that happen? Yes, that’s a rhetorical question and I know the answer.
As readers of my blog, many of you have followed my series, Conversations w/My Next Girlfriend. My friend Elisa, a fellow writer, suggested that I can now rename the episodes, Conversations w/My Next Wife. In less than two weeks — and after years of lobbying, activism, legislative action and legal challenges and lawsuits — my options have changed. I can legally marry a woman.
For a little background, or review for my regular readers, I’m formerly married to man, who was my first love, and who I loved and continue to love today (as chosen family). I’m formerly unmarried to a woman I had a 15-year relationship with whom I loved and still love today (again, as chosen family). I left my marriage when I came out as a lesbian and my former partner left me before marriage was legal — though I doubt she would have married me — another story for another time.
For the record, I celebrated the marriages of all my family and friends who are now legally recognized. I acknowledge all of the betrothed who have been patiently waiting for the SCOTUS decision. On social media, I couldn’t keep up with the “liking” of the status updates that I simply posted a blanket “LIKE.”
“Where’s my spouse? Oh, I don’t have one! I’m still full of joy and celebrating all my married friends and family, and grateful that I have equal rights under the law to marry if I choose!”
“If I didn’t LIKE your status update it’s only because there are so many posts from joyful, legally married couples I may have simply missed it, so here’s my LIKE for all. What’s not to LIKE about equal treatment under the law?”
As a writer, words are important. Names are important. How we name ourselves and each other is timely again. As a married woman and a feminist in the 1970s, wife connoted many things, some of which I railed against. Ironically, when I came out as a lesbian and explored committed relationships with women, language and names continued to be problematic and insufficient in describing our relationship to each other and how we wished to be recognized by others.
Before marriage was recognized legally for members of the same gender, some of us jokingly called each other “wusband” and “hife.” In the workplace and on legal documents for beneficiaries and medical emergency contact, it was “significant other,” with coworkers, family and friends we might refer to each other as “partners,” but sometimes have to answer the question, “What kind of business are you in?” When we felt a little playful we might refer to each other as “my main squeeze,” “my stud muffin,” or fill in your favorite endearment. Sometimes we’d simply say, “my lover,” or “my roommate.”
When I came out to my family, my father asked, “Are you the man, or the woman?” He wanted me to say woman, because he didn’t want to lose his little girl. When children are involved in partnerships we might describe each other as “co-parent,” “other mother”, or “bio mother,” which unfortunately puts emphasis on only part of the relationship. At the same time each of the names is to some degree an expression of spousal equivalence. Now, in addition to the rights we’ve obtained, we need to forge a new language to describe our relationships.
The more politically radical LGBTQ members of our community might look at this latest legal gain as a co-opted attempt to ape heteronormativity, others have examined the language in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion and questioned what it says about those of us who are single. As Michael Cobb writes in his Op Ed piece in the New York Times, The Supreme Court’s Lonely Hearts Club:
“Now all of us single people are pathetic, not just the straight ones. “Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there,” writes Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the majority opinion of the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges. As I read that bit alone in my apartment, I choked on my coffee.
Isn’t it enough to be denied the “constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage”? A constellation my coupled queer sisters and brethren now can hold dearly if they just make it official? Once again, being single is the dreary, awful, mournful alternative to marriage. A condition to be pitied, and quickly corrected by a sprint to City Hall.”
Just so there’s no misunderstanding about my position on legal marriage between same sex partners, I’m for it. I’m grateful for the SCOTUS ruling; we worked very hard to achieve our legal rights and protections under the law, and the recognition by the dominant culture, especially our allies, is welcomed and appreciated.
I’m celebrating the best I can as a single member of the community, but I’m not 100% sure I want to catch the bouquet at your wedding reception. Maybe I’ll feel differently when the conversation with my next girlfriend becomes a proposal for marriage and turns into a conversation with my next wife (or substitute, new and improved spousal equivalent language).
Don’t worry, stay tuned — you’ll be the first to know how I answer.
For related reading on this issue see: